Is Spike Lee the Jesse Jackson of Film?
One of the ironies of these supposedly post-racial Barack Obama times is that so much seventies-era identity politics has been coming back to haunt us like the "undead" in a horror movie.
And I'm not just talking about the excrescences of Wright, Pfleger and Meeks, et al. Director Spike Lee has reared his head to blow smoke from his joint again - targeting, of all people, Clint Eastwood.
According to Spike, the multiple Academy Award winning filmmaker erred by omitting black soldiers from his Iwo Jima movie Flags of Our Fathers. Never mind that Eastwood, director of Bird and evidently planning a film about Nelson Mandela, is about as far from a racist as you could get and never mind that historically the flag was hoisted over Iwo Jima by white guys, Spike had to get his two cents in. Crusty old Clint unsurprisingly told Lee to "Shut his face."
Why would Lee pick this fight?
Unfortunately, it couldn't be more obvious. Like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, time has been passing Spike Lee by. His worldview comes from another era and he has never really sought to revise it, to open his eyes. Proof of that is that for more than a decade Spike has barely made a film any of us can remember. Compare that to Eastwood, who, although some twenty-seven years Lee's senior, is at the top of his career, having scored big in 2003-2004 with Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby.
No wonder Spike's jealous. So what does he do? He reaches back to an era when he was more successful. He plays the old identity/race card. Now we could all laugh and say this is just another case of an (prematurely) aging artist grasping for attention, but these times are more complex than that. We don't know which way we are going - toward a post-racial future or back to a racist past.
I have been rooting very hard for the former so it was with some wistfulness I read that Barack and Michelle Obama's first date was to see Lee's Do the Right Thing. I very much liked the film at the time (1989), but somehow I wish the Obamas had gotten together over, say, a college production of Aeschylus or perhaps a reading of Pushkin. I don't want to think of their marriage emanating from the stew pot of American racial despair.
We have to get over all that and the time for getting over it is now. At a certain point, rehashing the evils that our races and religions have done to each other is counter-productive and only work to preserve, even encourage, the enmities.
It's time in America to say - enough.
Spike Lee - like Sharpton and Jackson - is now part of the problem, not part of the solution.